Episode Title: Fine Feathered Finks
Original Airdate: January 19, 1966
When I used to watch Batman as a kid, I was always anxious to find out what villain would be featured on today’s episode. After only a few seconds of this episode it becomes very obvious who our villain is. For, you see, the story opens with a group of people being given free umbrellas. Who else could it be but Burgess Meredith making his debut as that waddling criminal the Penguin in Fine Feathered Finks.
The previously mentioned umbrellas are distributed to the crowd shopping at the Ali Baba Jewelry Store. The umbrellas start spinning and sparking as if to cause a diversion for a holdup…yet nothing is stolen. Perhaps this is just a prank and the Penguin has actually been reformed before he was recently released from prison. Still, the caped crusaders decide to try and locate the criminal mastermind. They decide to look into umbrella factories in Gotham that have opened in the last three days. In fact, there are three new factories that have opened, one owned by a Mr. K. G. Bird. Get it? Cagey Bird.
Meanwhile, a report of free umbrellas being distributed at a bank comes in. The dynamic duo show up at the bank, but again nothing happens. The heroes head for the umbrella factory, but alas, they have no legitimate legal reason to haul the Penguin in. As they leave, Penguin’s henchmen launch a giant umbrella which lands in downtown Gotham. As Batman observes, “it looks like an ordinary umbrella except for its unusual size.” A smaller umbrella hangs from the handle, which Batman retrieves using his batarang.
The caped crusaders take the umbrella back to the Batcave, but their analysis uncovers no clues. They determine that they need to plant a bug (which looks like an actual bug) in the umbrella factory. The way to do that is to have Bruce Wayne go down to the factory for an umbrella repair job and plant the bug in the process. Penguin is too smart for that, however. His automated anti-bugging machine locates the device and he captures Bruce Wayne (figuring he’s rival umbrella company owner attempting industrial espionage). Now, Bruce is wrapped up in a net and placed on a conveyor belt for a one-way trip into a furnace heated to 10,000 degrees. Cue the cliffhanger narration…
The flaming end of the Caped Crusader
Can Bruce possibly escape??
For Batman’s sake!
Keep your Bat Fingers crossed until tomorrow!
I always find Burgess Meredith’s Penguin to be one of the craftier villains of this series. Other than his umbrellas, he doesn’t really have a gimmick and he’s not an intimidating figure by any stretch of the imagination. However, you can always see the wheels of his mind turning. He manages to outsmart Batman at one point in this episode, preventing his own arrest by knowing the law better than the cape wearing boy scouts do. I think a big part of what makes Meredith’s Penguin seem so sinister comes down to his voice and the way he grips his cigarette holder in his teeth. It gives him a truly menacing expression that is just wonderful. Add to it his iconic Penguin laugh and you’ve got a classic performance. Supposedly, Meredith developed the classic laugh to avoid coughing on the cigarettes he had to smoke. Meredith had quit smoking years before this series but endured it for the role.
This episode does have some fun gimmicks, especially the giant umbrella. The icing on the cake for that scene is seeing Robin use a bullhorn to warn the bystanders of the danger. He’s so serious as he calls out, “Back everyone! Take cover! It could be explosive!” Yet the people walking by stay quite casual. A few move from a walk to a slow jog, but most of them don’t seem one bit perturbed by a giant orange umbrella have landed in the middle of the street.
I will say that this episode leaves a little bit to be desired as it feels like a lot of setup for what’s to come in part two. The Penguin’s actions in this amount to little more than pranks as no actual crimes have yet been committed. Well, unless you count tying up Bruce Wayne and trying to stuff him into a furnace. We’ll find out more about what Penguin is plotting next time in The Penguin’s a Jinx.
Emergency Bat-Turn Lever
Chemo Electric Secret Writing Detector
Electronic Bugging Devices